After experiencing not a few white Christmases abroad, singer-actress Joanna Ampil made sure to spend the recent holidays in Manila.
She, however, is set to fly back to London (where she resides) on Jan.8 to catch up on the rehearsals of the European touring production of “Cats”—where she will play the iconic role of Grizabella.
“First performance will be in Edinburgh (Scotland) in February,” she told Inquirer. “It will be freezing there at that time.”
Luckily, she’ll be buried under all the fur that constitutes Grizabella’s costume onstage.
Even so, Ampil is fully aware that she needs to be primed, physically and mentally, for the grueling tour.
“I am keeping fit because once rehearsals start, we will certainly not have time to slow down,” she explained. “I need to maintain my stamina. London in January will also be extremely cold. I wouldn’t want to get sick while I’m still trying to get to know my character.”
The rehearsal period, she admitted, is “the most crucial stage” for her because “the body and mind will have to work overtime.”
Since she’s signed up for seven months, it will be summer in Europe by the time her contract ends.
On top of the fluctuating weather, a slew of sacrifices and challenges is required by the role.
(Since Ampil was in the middle of recording an OPM album under Viva when “Cats” beckoned, she’ll be working long-distance, putting the finishing touches on the CD as well.)
She’s not easily daunted, though. “Doing a show eight times a week can be monotonous; I need to have other challenges.”
Toughest part for her is mastering the choreography.
“Dancing is a challenge for me,” Ampil said. “At the same time, I am excited about working with some of the best dancers in the United
She was thrilled when the musical’s original choreographer, Gillian Lynne, showed up at her audition a few months back. “She’s a legend.”
She recalled that she caught “Cats” on the West End before it closed. “I also have a video of the show with Elaine Paige as Grizabella. I’m a fan of the music, especially ‘The Jellicle Ball.’”
Ampil described Grizabella as “completely different” from her previous roles on the West End stage— Kim in “Miss Saigon,” Mary Magdalene in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Eponine and Fantine in “Les Miserables.”
She explained: “It’s almost similar to how I felt when I landed the role of Fantine. That was my first mature role. Grizabella is another step up. I’m sure that after a month of playing her, I will have made a lot of discoveries.”
She intends to collaborate with the director in creating Grizabella. “I am very dependent on the directors I work with. Associate director Chrissie Cartwright gave me a lot of pointers when we met during the audition.”
She has also done a little research. “I plan to read T.S. Elliot’s book,” she said. “But I try not to overfeed myself with information. I need to leave a lot of room for the director’s input. It’s all about teamwork.”
“Cats” is a poignant homecoming for Ampil. “London is where it all started for me. It was the first city that gave me the chance to share my music with the world,” she said.
The enormity of the opportunity for a non-Westerner to play Grizabella is not lost on her.
“I feel very privileged. It’s another big responsibility … to represent the country in the international scene. At the same time, I feel loved because they entrusted such an important role to me,” she pointed out.
The racial divide, at least onstage, has been bridged, Ampil said. “We are very lucky to be born in this generation … at a time when international productions are open to multiracial casting.”